The TOC Twitter feed is exploding this morning with Phillies fans going nuts over the new marketing plan for the Washington Nationals. The Nats are offering a presale for their series with the Phillies from May 4th-6th at Nationals Park. Here’s the caveat: the presale is only open to residents of Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia, in an attempt to shut Phillies fans out from invading the stadium, like they do for every game between the two. What’s the big deal about this, you ask? Well, Phillies fans have noticed. And they’re pissed off.
Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post wrote an article this morning about the “Take Back the Park” initiative. In it, Steinberg touches on the fact that Nationals Park is essentially Citizens Bank Park South, with members of the Nationals getting booed at home and the stadium awash with Philly red and white. What seems to have really pissed off the Philly faithful is these quotes from Nationals COO Andy Feffer.
“Frankly, I was tired of seeing it,” Nats COO Andy Feffer told me this week. “Forget you, Philly. This is our park, this is our town, these are our fans, and it’s our time right now.”
“We’ve heard it enough, we’ve seen it enough, and I don’t like it any more than anyone else,” Feffer said. “We’re trying to build a team here, and nothing irks me personally or the people here more than to see another team’s fans — particularly Philly fans — in our ballpark, holding up signs. That’s not the way it should be. And I think we’ve got an opportunity here to do something different.”
Is this guy for real? I can understand wanting to have your fans flooding the park, but here are some facts. Washington home games last year drew an average of 24,877 people for a stadium that has a capacity of 41,506. That’s about 17,000 empty seats per game. Of the nine games against Philadelphia, five drew under that average. Think about that for a minute: in five of the nine games against the Phillies, the stadium drew less than their average, and it was STILL mostly Phillies fans. This isn’t a “Philly fans are invading our turf!” problem, this is a “nobody in Washington cares about the Nationals” problem.
Also take note of the fact that this promotion is good for one of three series against the Phillies, in May. Of those five below average attendance games, they all came in the first half of the year before the weather got beautiful. This promotion doesn’t take into account the games against Philly around the trade deadline, when the weather is gorgeous and kids are out of school, and the final series of the year in October, when Phillies fans are expecting to see a celebration for winning the division title.
And here’s another thing Washington didn’t take into account: Stubhub. For that three game series, without single game tickets even on sale yet, there are a total of more than 3,800 tickets available for the games on that weekend in May. As the presale opens up even more, I’d expect even more to start popping up online.
For the record, I think that opening a presale for individuals of certain states is complete lunacy, and it reeks of desperation. As I said earlier, this isn’t an “evil Philly fans are invading our turf!” problem, this is a “how can we get the locals to care about this team?” problem. Are they going to restrict the sale of tickets to local residents for Cubs and Mets games too? The Nationals have opened up a giant can of worms, and I’m willing to bet that when the Phillies come to town on that first weekend in May, Chase Utley will be getting more cheers than Michael Morse. Like he always does.